Starting in September of 2014 I began laying-out a graphic novel I had taken over from a previous artist, who stayed on as co-writer, I'll call him Stan. It was a passion project for me. It had been dead in the water for years at the publisher I was working with, and I was happy to revive it. Everyone on the team seemed extremely excited about bringing it to a December 2015 release.
So, away I went to work. I layed-out 160 pages over 6 months (September 2014-March 2015), sending in regular chapter updates to the team upon completion (about one chapter every month). After receiving no feedback for 6 months (not so much as a note from anyone on the team) I figured best to keep working as the print deadline would be tight. I get it, folks schedules are packed no big, right?
After completing the final chapter, I waited. No response. From anybody. Again, strange, so I reached out and asked what everyone thought. Eventually I'm told I would receive notes within a week. Great. Guess I'll produce the wrap around cover. No big.
Send in the thumbnail lay out for the cover a day or two later. No communication for 4 days. Okay, well, this needs to get done, so guess I'll ink and begin colouring it. 9 days later, and after a completed cover, notes for the image come in. I politely tell the team I've already completed the cover, they should have contacted me earlier. DRAMA! The previous artist, Stan who stayed on as co-writer, calls the editor and by all accounts throws a fit. Um, okay. But, I mean, where was this communication 6 months ago when I was sending in layouts? Anyway, I make a few edits, no problem-oh.
So, I'm still sitting on a mound of layouts awaiting notes. 2 weeks pass. No notes. I check in, 'they're coming.'
Alright, well, we are seriously running up against a crunch window as I have until the end of June to ink and colour 160 pages. It's okay though, I'm inking them at print size. It's saving me a boatload of time. I ink 20 pages in the first 5 days of not hearing anything. With my flatter cued up I'll have this book wrapped.
Notes come in.
Let me preface this by saying there was almost no money involved in this book. An advance that wouldn't cover rent for more than 2 months. And, having previously completed an OGN with the publisher, I knew the type of money I would be making upon release. Very little. But it was a passion project, I was completely invested.
Exactly 125 different edits, some of which range from simple scene re-blocking to large scale changes like previously agreed upon character designs and massive redraws of scenes and pages. I mean, significant changes, forcing me to redraw dozens of pages.
I'm no Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko, but I like to think I'm pretty good at this whole drawing comics-thing. I've worked for DC and I've got a few books under my wing. One of which I'm still seriously proud of. And the material I had produced for this OGN, honestly, some of the most innovative and confidant work I've done to date. I seriously didn't half-ass it, what I churned out was really good (honestly, I showed it to colleagues who agreed).
Anyway, so I review the notes. I figure given the detail of the edits it's equivalent to 4 weeks of work. For real. Which is 4 unpaid weeks. Remember, almost no money involved on this book (I received my share of the IP, but that was it).
I looked at the notes again, then I looked down at page 24, that I am just about to complete inking...and I put my pen down.
I lean back in my chair and reflect on the entire experience I've had to date on the book and with my publisher.
No communication for 6 months.
No feedback given in that time
The lack of money and recognition for work done involved
Complete lack of, what seems like, respect for my time and effort to date
So, I talk to some colleagues and advisors. I reflect for hours. The only feedback I've received on the book has come sporadically in the past 2 weeks, and most of it seems really negative. The only way I could describe how I felt was if you've ever found yourself walking down a street and suddenly the world gets quiet and you know, you just know "shit, I have to get the hell out of here." That's where I found myself. So, with a heavy heart I called my editor:
"I've decided to walk away from the project"
"What?! You can't! Why?!?" exclaims my editor
I inquired about the sheer volume of edits I'd been given. My editor, tells me the majority of the notes came from Stan, who everyone was waiting on. Which confused me, as Stan had previously told me he didn't complete the book because he couldn't afford to. So, here I am investing myself into the project, ignoring the lack of money involved, only to be told to do more unpaid work by the guy who wouldn't finish the book because there was no money involved. I mean, that's confusing, right?
What it felt like, to me, was Stan was unable to see someone else's vision on the project. I spoke to the other co-writer of the team, I'll call him Bob, and he verified this. Which was also verified later by a colleague of Stan's. I know, I'm just trying to illustrate that I'm not crazy.
So, a half dozen phone calls later, including a conference call with the editor-in-chief, everyone finally accepts I've left the book.
Honestly, I was heartbroken. Mind throbbing, I needed to take a breath.
"So, Scott, is this the book that was released?"
Ha! Nope. The story isn't over yet.
Bob and I had been told by our editor, who I'll call Steve (someone I deeply care for and respect, just so we're clear), in September 2013 he wanted us to co-create a book and bring it to him. Something in the 4-6 issue range. Maybe turn it into an ongoing. Cool. I liked Bob's work and, at the time, was enjoying my time with my publisher. I just had a book cancelled and was hungry to get another series off the ground. So, for the better part of 2 months Bob and I co-create a story. We come up with a real fun vision. We plot it and develop tones and characters and so on. We're having fun.
Anyway, we pitch it and get the greenlight in early 2014. We collectively agree to focus on the OGN after I take a personal sabbatical between February-August 2014 (plus I have to draw Batman '66! Boom!).
So, this series is greenlit. Then all the OGN drama happens and I walk. I tell everyone I'm still committed to the series, but after this experience I do express being wary of jumping in too quickly. Seriously, the wind had been stripped from my sails.
A few months go by and I start thinking about the project and honestly have no warmth for it anymore. My previous experiences with my publisher left me feeling a little bummed.
I get the opportunity to work on Batman '66 again to take my mind off it. Amazing experience, best I've ever been treated in the industry.
So 2015 wraps up and I haven't spoken to my editor, publisher or Bob since leaving the OGN. I figure we'll have to talk soon and I'll need to tell them I'm not coming back to the greenlit series.
At this point, I have decided to turn my attention elsewhere. Working a different creator-owned angle. I'm filled with passion and fire. It's great. I have a work schedule and milestones I need to hit.
So, I hit a major work milestone on my project. A big one.
I sit in my chair and sigh a deep breath. Kind of proud. "Damn, I can't believe I did that." I think
I immediately peek in on ComicsAlliance.com to see what's happening in industry.
First article I see...
Bob announcing our project. "Wait, what?" I read on. Another artist is listed as co-creator. "Wait, what?"
I call my editor. Voicemail.
"Steve, I just found this article about the release of *Series Title*
30 minutes later he calls.
"Hey, man, what's going on?" he says.
"Uh, so *Series Title*
"Yeah, but you walked away" he says
"No, I walked away from the OGN, I never said anything about walking away from this" I respond
"Okay, what do you want me to say?" he asks
"This was a creator-owned book. I co-created it, how can you publish it without contacting me? Will I be listed as co-creator?" I ask
"No. I'm not prepared to do that. I can't do that." He claims
"But, it's a creator-owned book. I'm the co-creator." I exclaim
Anyway, this is a Coles notes of the conversation, but you see where it's going. We end the call and Steve calls Bob.
I sit for a moment and reflect. Given my past experience on the OGN (and some very sketchy decisions made on my previous work there) I thought "...had they asked I probably would have given my blessing to another artist. But I still should be listed as co-creator." I wait.
Steve calls back with Bob on the phone and we discuss the project. Bob says literally nothing the entire call. Steve apologizes but reiterates I left the book. "I didn't" I stress.
Anyway, 20 minutes go by and I continue to push for a co-creator credit. No budging. Finally I realize it's time to go. I tell them I wish they had handled it differently and lets end things here.
And that is where I left it. Honestly, I'm hurt by how I was treated and how the entire situation was handled, but I am grateful it happened. And especially when it did. It was the validation I needed to realize my current creator-owned project is a better direction for me and my work.
As I sat working at my desk this past week I decided to take a break and go to the comic shop with my daughter to get her some new books. The series I co-created with Bob sat on the shelf and reminded me of the pain I experienced with it. A sincere reminder of what my life used to look like.
I only share this story in the hope it helps illuminate the experience creators and creatives sometimes go through in creating the art they love.
I've really struggled with whether or not to share this story. For months. I've told a few close friends and colleagues, but I was never sure I should share it. I know the way some folk respond to honest and raw experiences such as this. Just so we're crystal clear, I'm not complaining or bemoaning or any of that baloney. I'm much happier on the trajectory I now find myself on. I hope, more than anything, my experience will help teach new or, for that matter, old creatives and artists they do have options. Sometimes walking away is your most powerful ally. Don't feel you ever need stay in a situation that is not providing your basic needs. You are aloud to walk. And in my case, what I walked to is far, far more fulfilling.
Love to you all, keep the faith yo!